Concert Review: Paul Simon Live – 2 April 2013 Sydney Entertainment Centre

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th April 2013.

Many, many moons ago, for my twelfth birthday party, I compiled a wish list of cassettes that I wanted to receive from my family and schoolmates. For the uninitiated, cassettes were the precursor to compact discs and had a tendency to melt in the car on hot days in summer. They were also much harder to use as drink coasters.

My list was varied and contained just as many albums that would be considered classics as embarrassments. For every Crowded House debut album, there was a Rick Astley disaster. For every Kick by INXS, there was a Tiffany album. As always, I will deny owning these terrible albums if asked (I’m still talking to you, Doug, the newspaper guy).

One cassette I loved from the moment I pressed play was Graceland by Paul Simon. My gateway track was the hit single You Can Call Me Al, which featured a music video starring Chevy Chase, back when he was funny (he later became funny again in the hit comedy series Community but sadly left the show last year, which for fans like me wasn’t funny).

Graceland was the amalgam of Simon’s pop and folk roots and his discovery of South African music. Every track is a gem and the album, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, is still on regular rotation in my home and car (on CD even).

So it was with great excitement that I witnessed a 70 year old Paul Simon in concert at the soon-to-be-demolished Sydney Entertainment Centre last Tuesday night. I missed his support act, Rufus Wainwright, but heard some audience members giving him scathing reviews in the foyer, so I may have dodged a bullet there.

Opening with the Graceland classic, Gumboots, it was clear that the capacity crowd were in for a musical treat. Simon’s eight piece multi-instrumentalist backing band was absolutely remarkable and recreated the sound of the Graceland tracks, in particular, flawlessly.

In his awkward introductory speech, Simon announced that he wanted to play an upbeat set, which was fine by me as I had just driven for three and a half hours from work and had the same journey ahead of me immediately after the concert. Hit after hit followed in rapid succession: 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, The Obvious Child. Unfortunately, the overzealous security folk kept those wanting to dance in their assigned places, however, with a largely baby boomer audience, arthritis may have also been responsible for everyone else staying comfortably seated.

Simon performed six Graceland tracks during the show, including You Can Call Me Al, as well as songs from his earlier solo work right up to his new album, 2011’s So Beautiful or So What. He also performed some covers including a beautiful version of George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun.

Returning for his third encore, Simon announced that he felt like playing some Simon and Garfunkel tracks and sent us all home after two hours of pure musical bliss with joyful renditions of America, Homeward Bound and The Boxer. I might have shed a tear or two during the final track. I said “might have”, Doug.

Published in: on April 9, 2013 at 18:42  Leave a Comment  
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Never Tear Us Apart: An obituary to INXS

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th November 2012.

Aussie music fans were not at all stunned last week with the not particularly shocking announcement that INXS were calling it quits after 35 years as a touring act. On the final night of a tour supporting Matchbox Twenty in Perth, drummer Jon Farriss informed the Perth crowd that they were witnessing the last live performance of the band that at one time were Australia’s biggest musical exports.

My earliest memory of INXS involves dancing along to Original Sin during a sleepover at a mate’s house. The year was 1984. The album was Throbbin ’84 (on cassette). At the time, neither of us even knew how to pronounce INXS. As far as we were concerned they were “ink-sus” (rhyming with sphinxes).

A few years later, MTV arrived on our shores, though not as we know it today. Pay TV was still a few years away. MTV first aired in Australia as a three hour late Friday and Saturday night music show on the Nine Network, hosted by Richard Wilkins, complete with mullet. Each year, as a special, the MTV Music Awards was also broadcast. I still have the 1986 awards on videocassette somewhere which features an in form INXS performing What You Need.

In 1987, INXS released Kick and the rest is history. Selling over ten million copies worldwide, Kick is a perfect forty minutes of pop. Featuring the singles Need You Tonight, Devil Inside and Never Tear Us Apart, the album launched the band into the stratosphere and for a few short years INXS was arguably the biggest band in the world. I really must put the special edition Kick 25 reissue on my Christmas wish list. I love that album.

Flashforward to the mid-nineties and INXS had begun to lose their shine. Creatively the band had not been able to match Kick and sales had slumped. It was during preparations for their “comeback” tour in 1997 that Michael Hutchence committed suicide in a Sydney hotel room. I had front row centre tickets for the first of these comeback gigs at the State Theatre. What a bummer.

Rather than retire the INXS name, the remaining members continued to tour with a succession of singers, making them one of those rare creatures in the music industry: a band that transformed into their own cover act.

I finally caught INXS (with ex-Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens) live in Cardiff on a double bill with Blondie. It simply wasn’t the same. Michael Hutchence had a unique stage presence and charisma that was irreplaceable.

A little later, a new singer, Canadian J.D. Fortune was promoted to vocal duties via a TV talent search. Although his Michael Hutchence impersonation wasn’t bad, J.D. only lasted one album before being dropped for Irishman Ciaran Gribbin.

As far as I’m concerned, INXS ceased to exist in 1997 with the death of Hutchence. It has taken 15 years for the other band members to understand this but I think deep down most fans would agree with me. Just like The Doors without Jim Morrison or Queen without Freddie Mercury, INXS were simply not the same without their charismatic frontman.

Published in: on December 25, 2012 at 08:50  Leave a Comment  
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The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour Review

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th September 2012.

Last month I finally fulfilled a lifetime dream. I sang live with The Beach Boys. Well, to be fair, I sang along with The Beach Boys. Close enough.

To celebrate their 50th anniversary, the surviving original members of the legendary Californian supergroup regrouped for a brand new studio album and world tour, which hit Australian shores in August. Their Sydney gig at Allphones Arena was almost sold out and I was lucky enough to acquire seats within metres of the stage.

The crowd was mostly baby boomers but I certainly wasn’t the youngest person there, although it’s possible that I was the youngest person there without my parents, or grandparents. A cashed up crowd, there was already lines twenty deep at the merchandise stand by the time I arrived at the arena. With t-shirts at $50 each, I’m sure there were plenty of punters spending their kids’ inheritance money to beef up The Beach Boys’ retirement fund.

Prior to the show, I had looked up some live clips of the band from the last time that they were all playing together – the late eighties. To my dismay, I stumbled across a concert when they were joined onstage by the Tanner Family. That’s right, The Beach Boys guest starred on an episode of the atrocious sitcom Full House in 1988 that culminated in a live concert vocal massacre of Kokomo and Barbara Ann. I sure hoped the band had gotten rid of their daggy eighties stage clothes and more importantly, left Danny, Joey and Uncle Jesse behind.

To my relief, The Beach Boys have updated their wardrobes to tasteful Hawaiian shirts (is that possible?) and are certainly up to date with technology. From my seat I was able to observe lead singer Mike Love check his mobile phone for messages before climbing the stairs to the stage at the start the show.

Joined by an ultra tight backing group featuring members from Brian Wilson’s solo touring band, the boys were in fine voice. Their trademark harmonies were glorious as they ploughed through a whopping 52 song set over two sets. Hit after hit, the band covered five decades of music from their early tunes about surfing, girls and cars right through to their sophisticated wall of sound masterpieces from the Pet Sounds and Smile albums.

Audience interaction was kept to a minimum with only a small amount of banter every couple of songs. Mike Love’s self-deprecating jokes about the band’s advanced age were predictable but funny. Most noticeable was the lack of any obvious camaraderie between the original band members. I guess after fifty years together on the tour bus, there isn’t much left to say.

Three hours with The Beach Boys went by in a flash and before I knew it, I was thrust back into the sterile foyer area to find that almost all of the merchandise was sold out. Not so fun fun fun.

If The Beach Boys make it to their 60th anniversary, you can be sure that I’ll be there to sing along with them, dance badly to their hits and buy my merchandise much earlier.

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 01:07  Leave a Comment  
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The Beach Boys are Back

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 5th June 2012.

Stop the presses! One of my favourite bands of all time is coming to our shores. To celebrate their 50th anniversary, The Beach Boys will play Sydney on August 30.

Sure, the band has toured Australia several times in recent years but with a stripped down line-up of original lead vocalist Mike Love and long time member Bruce Johnston (he joined four years after the inception of the band in 1965), along with a backing band.

For this year’s reunion tour, the three other surviving members of the group, Brian Wilson, Al Jardine and David Marks are returning to the fold and the results should be fun, fun, fun.

It’s been twenty years since musical genius Brian Wilson has worked with the band. Responsible for The Beach Boys sound and its multi layered instrumental arrangements and harmonies, Wilson has been recording and touring as a solo act since becoming estranged from the group in the eighties due to mental illness and drug abuse. I’ve seen Brian Wilson in concert twice now. Along with an exceptionally tight backing band he puts on an unforgettable show.

50th anniversary reunions mustn’t come cheap. Either that, or the boys’ superannuation accounts need a big top up. The Ultimate Meet and Greet Package for the Sydney gig will set you back just over $1200 per person. You’ll get a ticket in the first five rows, exclusive souvenirs, food, unlimited booze and a programme. But that’s not all, you’ll also get to meet members of The Beach Boys and have a personal photo with them. Good value? Who cares? This is a unique opportunity and I’d love the VIP experience, but the mortgage says no. Please send cheques care of the Central Western Daily.

A new studio album and single also accompanies the tour. Both are entitled, “That’s Why God Made the Radio”. Released yesterday worldwide, the new single features the classic harmonies that made the band famous.

If you’ve still got some spare cash lying around after you’ve bought your VIP concert package, a mere $500 will get you the new CD, a t-shirt, poster and a very limited edition uncut proof sheet of the album artwork signed by all five members of The Beach Boys.

If you prefer the old stuff, the legendary Smile album boxset, complete with a full size surfboard signed by Brian Wilson will set you back $6000. Don’t delay, according to The Beach Boys website, there are only five sets remaining.

My favourite album of all time is Pet Sounds. My favourite song is God Only Knows. What is a Beach Boys fan with a cash flow problem to do? Rhonda wasn’t able to help, but Visa certainly did.

I’m not in the first five rows for the gig, but I managed to get great seats. I won’t be meeting the band either but that’s OK. I’ve always felt that there was something a little grubby about paying for someone’s autograph. The CD and t-shirt are on their way from the US but my uncut artwork proof is sans signatures.

With any luck, the 50th anniversary Beach Boys album and Australian tour will be a once in a lifetime event. Considering the extortionate prices of tickets and merchandise, it better be.

The Beach Boys play Allphones Arena on August 30.

There’s only One Direction and that’s towards obscurity

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 1st May 2012.

Am I the only one who doesn’t have a clue about One Direction? It seems that they simply appeared from nowhere. For about a week they dominated the media, including high brow broadsheet newspapers and every breakfast TV show on the air.

As a good columnist, I’ve done my research. One Direction is the latest boyband from somewhere overseas and every member is named Liam (pronounced “Lame”). They are also definitive proof that human cloning is underway.

I’ve had a listen to their debut album and as far as pop songs go, it’s completely inoffensive. The tunes are well written and catchy enough, although that’s more of a credit to the songwriters and auto-tune than the performers. The voices are nothing special but they blend together nicely.

The album cover and title puzzle me though. The picture on the sleeve shows the Liams all fresh faced and smiling, but the name of the record is Up All Night. I wish I looked like them when I’ve been up all night. I think a more appropriate album title for the cover art would be It’s Almost Recess.

On a recent trip to Sydney, I was shocked to come across the One Direction Official Merchandise Store in Pitt Street. Teenage girls were lining out the door to purchase t-shirts, shopping bags and badges adorned with the mugs of the Liams. You could even buy the complete doll set of the group for $200. I’m sure the store is a nice little earner for someone, probably One Direction’s manager. As far as I’m concerned, it would have been much more efficient to simply erect a big sign in front of the shop saying, “Attention teenyboppers, please drop your parents’ hard earned cash here.”

Apparently tickets for One Direction’s upcoming Australian arena tour have been selling like there’s no tomorrow. Most of the concerts are sold out and tickets have been appearing on ebay with huge mark-ups. If you are lucky enough to have acquired tickets, my advice is to sell, sell, sell. You see, the concert tour is scheduled for September 2013. That’s right, sixteen months from now.

Having survived the musical fads that were New Kids on the Block, Hanson, Backstreet Boys, Girlfriend, Bros, Milli Vanilli, Spice Girls, B*Witched and Daryl Somers, I’m pretty sure that the average peak popularity of these groups is less than a year. I did manage to avoid Bieber fever because I got vaccinated.

Whoever is pulling the strings on One Direction’s marketing is a genius. Make a fortune selling tickets now for concerts so far ahead in the future that it’s most likely that fans would have moved on to the next big thing by then. Trust me girls, list your precious tickets on ebay now because you’ll probably be giving them away next year. Use your profits to buy shares in a boyband marketing company.

It won’t be so bad for the Liams when One Direction inevitably fade into obscurity. They’ll still be young enough to go back and finish school. Primary school, that is.